WikiLeaks Founder Surrenders, Faces Charges In U.K.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Julian Assange appeared in court today after being arrested by British police. The founder of WikiLeaks has infuriated U.S. officials by exposing secret documents, but that is not the official reason he was arrested today. He faces charges of sex crimes in Sweden.
NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this story from London. What's the latest news from the court, Philip?
PHILIP REEVES: Well, Mr. Assange has been remanded in custody, and he will remain behind bars for one week until another hearing is held. It seems that the judge at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court based this decision to remand him rather than to grant him bail, which is what his lawyers and he wanted, on a couple of considerations. The first was that he has access to financial means. The second is the seriousness of the allegations against him. And the third appears to have been a worry that he might not turn up for the next hearing.
Assange has said he wanted bail, and indeed in the court a handful of people actually appeared and offered to put up money for bail, including the film director Ken Loach and the veteran campaigning journalist John Pilger.
INSKEEP: Hmm. So the money was available, but the trust was not.
REEVES: That's right. The judge appears to have been concerned, as I say, about these different aspects. The charges - in technical, legal terms, they are serious. He was being arrested, as you know, on a European arrest warrant from Sweden. One of these charges concerns an allegation of rape, two of molestation, and one of unlawful coercion. So I think that has been a factor in the decision that the judge took today.
INSKEEP: Would you talk us through how it is that Julian Assange ended up in police custody? This is a man that people have been looking for and unable to find and in an undisclosed location for a while, it seemed.
REEVES: Well, the police received a warrant for his arrest from the Swedes yesterday, contacted his lawyers, they entered negotiations, and it was agreed that Assange would appear at a police station in the middle of London, which he duly did this morning. He was arrested, and that led to today's court hearing.
INSKEEP: Now, Assange has suggested, as you've been telling us when we've been talking about this through the morning - or his lawyers have suggested that there are questions about this whole sex abuse case against him because the charges were filed and then dropped and then filed again, and the timing certainly does seem to be interesting because the United States and other countries are very, very mad at him.
Is there any possibility, Philip Reeves in London, that Assange could face some kind of charges directly related to the WikiLeaks disclosures?
REEVES: At this stage we're not seeing any sign of that. At the moment, the focus is on what allegedly happened in Sweden. This concerns a visit that he made there in August. He had an encounter with two women there. At issue is whether this was consensual sex - apparently it was unprotected sex. Assange denies the allegations against him. And as you pointed out, he and his lawyers see this as a political issue. His lawyers have said that Assange is being persecuted and have called the charges against him a political stunt.
INSKEEP: But what would it take to actually charge him for something in the WikiLeaks case? Is there any possibility of that?
REEVES: Well, there's discussion here in the U.K., which is focusing further down the line, as to whether he might be extradited to the United States at some stage; that would have to happen after he is extradited to Sweden. And remember, he is opposing that extradition. He was asked, in fact, in court today if he would consent to it, and he categorically said no. If, however, he ends up in Sweden, then the issue is whether the U.S. could then extradite him, and he might face charges over the leaks in the United States.
There is an extradition treaty. It dates back to the 1960s. At issue, though, is whether it has within it the law, the terminology, the correct offenses on its list that apply to what charges the Americans might to choose to bring against him. It's said, apparently, that the Espionage Act is one of the areas they would seek to prosecute him over. But that is not contained within the fine wording of the treaty, as I understand it. So this is going to be quite a long legal battle, I think, and it may indeed be a long legal battle that remains in England for a few weeks yet.
INSKEEP: Philip, thanks very much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves reporting in London on the arrest of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. One of the mysteries about Assange has been whether he's working with other people, who WikiLeaks really is. The suggestion today is that there must be at least one more person out there because someone from WikiLeaks has tweeted today that Assange's arrest won't affect our operations. Quote: "We will release more cables tonight, as normal."
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